Complex Made Simple

Alessandro Gualtieri: Meet the perfumer breaking all the rules of perfumery

Aficionado had a tête-à-tête with Amsterdam-based Italian perfumer, Alessandro Gualtieri, at Villa 515 boutique, which doubles as his laboratory when he’s in Dubai.

To describe Gualtieri – aka, the “Nose” – as a rebel challenging mainstream perfumery is a gross understatement. The prolific perfumer has thrown the rulebook out the window a long time ago. He now takes great pride in his “failure in the eyes of society” and revels in celebrating it.

“Luckily, I managed to make something initially for myself, but gladly people are also buying this stuff, so it works,” he tells Aficionado.

The vanguard “Nose” started his career back in the 1980s. Since then, he had visited a number of natural reserves in the Middle East’s Yemen and Oman to locate rare and raw ingredients for his creations.

Throughout his career, Gualtieri lent his nose to major household names, creating fragrances for powerhouses such as Versace, Valentino, Fendi and their likes. But after years of what he called “restricted creativity,” he gave up on the mainstream industry in 2006, and launched his own niche brand.

“We’re all failures, you can be the most beautiful and intelligent but you will remain a failure because when you understand that you are not perfect or not what society wants you to represent, you finally relax and cope with yourself and all the people around you will feel your energy,” Gualtieri explains, admitting, nonetheless, that it was important to go through full-time jobs with big brands in order to figure out his direction in life. He insists, however, that he was done with the limitations they imposed on him: “The restriction that was really oppressive was about the creativity part…I thought when I got into this world that it was all about creation and experimenting and that we are free, but in the end, it is super controlled and super boring as well.”

It was precisely this boredom of being limited and the frustration that came with it that prompted Gualtieri to launch his first perfume collection, “Nasomatto” (Crazy Nose). “Nasomatto came out of being upset with what I was doing before, so it was like a reaction,” he says.

While preferring to work with the notes of low volatility, Gualtieri keeps himself open to a choosing from his large palette of 1,800 ingredients. He admitted to his tendencies to complicate things, going through 300 to 400 trials, as instructed by his instinct, before getting somewhere. “The smallest formula I have is 80 ingredients, but I also have one with 320 complex ingredients, more when broken down,” he says.

For an average, run-of-the-mill fragrance, the number of chemicals added usually surpasses the number of natural ingredients.

The Nasomatto collection includes the acclaimed Black Afghano, a hashish-based (cannabis) fragrance, which took Gualtieri six years to perfect. He explained that the process of creating a perfume takes him anywhere from three months to six years, pointing out that “there are people who launch 20 or 30 products .”

Perfumery aside, Gualtieri also has a penchant for film – among other art forms. The 2013 documentary “The Nose: Searching for Blamage,” – written and directed by Paul Rigter – stars Gualtieri as himself on a journey to create the Blamage perfume, breaking all the common rules of designing a perfume in the process.

The Italian perfumer explains that he often has a clear idea of where to start when designing a new fragrance and usually begins with the end in mind. However, he notes, there comes a time where he loses control over the project and lets it finish itself.  “You lose control because you have been so deeply involved in mixing the formula that at a certain point, you exhaust yourself and you lose control. You take a distance, you come back and you’d not even want to be confronted anymore. I don’t even want to think about it anymore and I just let it go, and when I have this is sort of feeling in my stomach then I know that it is finished,” he says.

Gualtieri’s latest collection “Orto Parisi” debuted in 2014 in five unisex fragrances. “Parts of our body which contain more smell are the ones that contain more soul,” he points out explaining the inspiration behind the collection. “Our civilization brought us to shower almost everyday, to clean, to bleach, to be nice and so on, a little bit less natural. So the idea was to treat the body like a garden.”

When creating a perfume, Gualtieri explained that he does not decide whether the final creation would be for men or women, because that is tantamount to judging and framing, and that, he believes, takes away from the magic of the fragrance. “We tend to put people and things in frames, because we are afraid and we want to feel comfortable so we give a structure, that’s one of the problems of this society,” he adds.

Wrapping up the conversation, Gualtieri advised people looking to purchase a fragrance to never buy on the spot: “I think you go, do your own research, see if someone gives you a compliment…and in the end, while you can be very spontaneous and feel a fragrance right away, never buy on the spot and never get manipulated by the sales people. You should never listen to anybody but yourself,” he concludes.